Pret-a-Reporter

Hollywood's Top 20 Interior Designers

9:00 AM 10/23/2015

by Alexandria Abramian

L.A.'s real estate boom and tech influx up the ante for domestic displays of power and obsessively curated comfort as THR names the hottest creatives on the home front.

Eric Hughes and Stacey Snider at Snider's Fox office.
Eric Hughes and Stacey Snider were photographed by Gregg Segal on Aug. 26 at Snider's Fox office.

It's not only the town's residential compounds that are getting supersized: Decorating budgets also are leaping higher, and client demands right along with them. Gone (mostly) are the days when designers were hired for their signature stamp; L.A. clients now want to express their own design DNA with a decorator summoned to interpret.

Consider Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen Pompeo and Fox co-chairman Stacey Snider: Each is looking for a partner rather than a permanent court decorator, which is why they've worked with more than one of the talents on this list — chosen for their design influence and high-profile (and high-net worth) clientele.

But an even greater shift in the city's home-design landscape has been the influx of tech money. From Beverly Hills to Venice, L.A. has drawn many newly minted digital billionaires, resulting in projects that have designers like Jamie Bush and Peter Dunham scrambling to score one-of-a-kind finds.

What hasn't changed: jaw-dropping Hollywood excess. Bush cites a $250,000 sculpture purchased for a client's driveway. "We bought extra pieces for it," he says, "in case the kids break it playing basketball."

See more Inside the Homes Designed By Hollywood's Top Interior Designers (Photos)

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  • Joan Behnke

    Courtesy of Subject

    For those who want their homes to speak wealth but not scream it, Behnke (who's been called "the billionaire whisperer") often is the answer. The 60-something California native has completed 11 projects for private-equity heavy-hitter Alec Gores and his family, including an airplane and, more recently, a 10,000-square-foot home for his daughter Rochelle, a philanthropist, and her financier husband, David Fredston.

    "The challenge is how to do a house that's this massive and still keep it 'light,' " says Behnke (solution: floor illumination for the travertine walls to create "a floating effect"). She also had a hand in Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen's former Brentwood home (together with architect Richard Landry) and the couple's 14,000-square-foot Boston compound.

    She currently is modulating Sylvester Stallone's Beverly Hills home from "a superhero environment to something that is much more serene," she says, also citing a "major music creator" as a client (she won't name names, but Beats founder Dr. Dre purchased the Brady-Bundchen L.A. fortress for $40 million).

    "I work with tech, hedge-fund and entertainment people," she says. "Something I see in all of them is a sense of economy. These are some of the smartest people in the world, and many are now thinking things like, 'If I have a 108-inch TV in my great room, do I really need a movie theater?'"

    Click here to see Behnke’s work on Gores Fredston’s home.

  • Martyn Lawrence Bullard

    Amy Sussman/Invision for Benjamin Moore/AP Images

    Clients: Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Cher, Aaron Sorkin

    Of all the Million Dollar Decorators castmates, Bullard has parlayed the Bravo fame into a legitimate empire like none other. The London-born onetime actor already had a heavy-hitting CV, with clients like Elton John, Sharon Osbourne and Cher drawn to what the designer calls his "take on theatrical interiors."

    Now he has exploded from a boutique firm with eight assistants to an office that houses 28 designers and project managers along with five in-house architects. At the helm, the fashionably flamboyant 48-year-old oversees a dizzying number of projects as well as a product-line division that spans wood floors to jewelry.

    "Right now, we're working in Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Australia and Italy with a mix of clients who are royalty, tech, finance, bankers," he says. Stateside projects include Ellen Pompeo's Los Feliz Mediterranean and realtor Chris Cortazzo's Point Dume compound that was transformed into a "Balinese midcentury modern retreat."

    Then there's the Kardashian clan: Bullard recently tackled Khloe's Calabasas hangout, taking it from "bad Mediterranean into glammed-up Moroccan."

    For Kourtney's nearby spread, "This is all about truly fine midcentury design that is utterly different from the madness in her last house," he says. "We're buying things like Lichtenstein."

    On his design horizon: Santa Barbara's historic Californian Hotel on State Street.

  • Jamie Bush

    "I'm not sure how this happened. It's not like they know each other," says Bush, 46, of his growing roster of tech clients, citing such projects as a San Francisco townhome for app developer Jonathan Perlow and a Tahoe chalet for Chamath Palihapitiya, an original at Facebook.

    Then there's the very young unnamed startup billionaire with the $2.1 million Venice Beach triplex. "What they share is that they don't want their homes to be flashy," Bush adds. "For clients like Chamath, we aren't going to put an Hermes throw anywhere in his home."

    The same aesthetic applies to Beats president Luke Wood. Along with architect Barbara Bestor, Bush (also an architect) is exacting a careful restoration of John Lautner's Silvertop in Silver Lake, which Wood purchased in 2014.

    "When I met Jamie," says Wood, who was introduced to Bush by Bestor, "I loved that he has that tenacious passion that results in great things."

    Click here to see Bush’s work on a client’s Venice home.

     

  • Tommy & Kathleen Clements

    AP Photo/Katy Winn

    Clients: Jennifer Aniston, Bruno Mars, Ellen DeGeneres

    This mother-son team has carved a coveted design-savvy Hollywood client base: Aniston, Mars, DeGeneres and Ringo Starr all have come to the Clementses for their couture-like focus: Think hyper-curated spaces that speak sophistication without the art-gallery chill.

    "We don't do precious," says Tommy, "and most of our clients are really interested in design and take an active role."

    Projects include a three-years-in-the-making collaboration with architect Howard Backen on a "sophisticated urban" Beverly Hills compound for Stephen Paul, a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and managing principal at Laurel Crown Partners.

    The Clementses also scored one of the city's most coveted assignments: Stacey Snider's new home, being built by architect Marmol Radziner. Says Kathleen,"Marmol has this specific and unique vision for this house; it's going to be fantastic."

    Design trend they're done with: Says Tommy, "Homes where clients never spend time in 80 percent of the spaces."

  • Commune Design

    "We're kind of control freaks," says Steven Johanknecht, who along with Roman Alonso and Pamela Shamshiri (whose brother Ramin, also a partner, is married to Universal chief Donna Langley), make up one of L.A.'s most elusive design firms, who declined to name their clients. "At the same time, we don't want any of our homes to feel like museums."

    Commune's wide variety of work ranges from high-powered homes to hard-working mega projects like Ace Hotel in downtown L.A.

    Current projects include the Durham Hotel in Durham, N.C., and the soon-to-open Elder Statesman cashmere boutique in Venice.

    Not on the Commune client list? You can get a piece of the action this month as its seating collection for George Smith (ranging from $4,000 to $14,000) hits the La Cienega showroom.

    On their design horizon: Commune designed the now-shuttered Ammo on Highland and is working on the restaurant's takeout eatery on Melrose.

  • Peter Dunham

    Andreas Branch/PatrickMcMullan.com

    Clients: Jennifer Garner, Steve Tisch, Minnie Driver

    "I know the tide has shifted dramat­ically simply by the number of ground-up projects we're currently working on," says Dunham of the L.A.-and-beyond real estate boom, as he juggles a Marmol Radziner-architected ground-up in Montecito along with others in Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, Palo Alto and Ojai.

    "A lot of these new projects are for techies," notes the U.K.-born, France-raised designer.

    "The kind who are now in their late 30s or early 40s and are realizing it's time to come out of the cave. One of them recently said to me, 'This is hard for me to comprehend, living in a $10 million house when we were living in a basement in Venice four years ago.' These are the kind of luxury problems I deal with."

    Dunham also keeps busy minding his La Cienega shop. "I love it because we're able to provide really great things at a range of prices to the trade client," he says, "but also to the Pinterest customer, who can spend $100 or $1,000."

  • Waldo Fernandez

    Nicholas Hunt/Patrick McMullan

    Clients: Brian Grazer, Brad Pitt

    L.A.'s original celebrity decorator has a CV that includes homes for the likes of the late Elizabeth Taylor. But it might be the much-worshipped interiors of Soho House that put Fernandez's 40-year career back on the front burner.

    Today, the Cuba-born 60-something bustles around the globe with projects that include houses, high-rise compounds, hotels and restaurants in Washington, D.C., London, Seattle and Manhattan, where he's doing a condo for former Dodgers owner Jamie McCourt.

    Also in play: a redo of the Malibu Beach Inn. "We're going to start with the restaurant/bar area first. The idea is to make it more today," says Fernandez of the Carbon Beach hotel that previously was owned by David Geffen.

    Earlier this year, it was purchased by Mani Brothers Real Estate Group (owner of Soho House's 9200 Sunset Blvd. building).

    As for Soho's upcoming DTLA outpost? "Nick Jones [has] a team of in-house designers who work for him now, so I'm not doing this one, which is fine," he says. "To this day, I still get people calling me who say, 'Would you do the Soho House for me at my home?' "

    Design obsession: Furniture by Parisian designer Ingrid Donat.

  • Sandy Gallin

    PatrickMcMullan.com via AP Images

    Clients: Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Jimmy Iovine

    Gallin's arc from producer and talent manager to interior designer has a through line: Both career acts pretty much exclusively involve A-listers.

    For the first, there were clients Cher, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson and Nicole Kidman. Now, the 75-year-old known for creating some of the most stunning homes in Hollywood routinely does projects for such high-profile clients as Shelli and Irving Azoff.

    But despite the proliferation of show business people, his interiors are far from showy: Think natural materials, earth tones and obsessively curated art, lighting and textiles.

  • Trip Haenisch

    AP Photo/Katy Winn

    Clients: Courteney Cox, WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell

    L.A.'s runaway luxury real estate market has proved a boon to Haenisch on all fronts. Not only is he busy working on some of the city's most massive spec projects, but he also is overseeing his own flips.

    "Right now I'm working on my seventh home in Trousdale, originally built for [Sherwood Schwartz,] the creator of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island," says the Midwestern transplant, who has the Midas touch when it comes to million-dollar residential rehabs.

    Earlier this year, OneRepublic lead singer Ryan Tedder purchased a Haenisch Trousdale flip for $12 million. "It's liberating to do my own projects and spec homes because the process is so seamless; I really get to do whatever I want."

    Not that he has abandoned his other gig — creating unfussy, fine art-friendly homes for clients like Cox and Whitesell (Haenisch is putting the finishing touches on the Cabo compound that Whitesell shares with producer Scott Stuber and wife Molly Sims). And while the designer is mum on the subject, he has been spotted with Sandra Bullock on many occasions and is rumored to be hard at work on her Beverly Hills home.

    Design trend he's done with: "Moroccan-style anything."

  • Jane Hallworth

    AP Photo/Katy Winn

    Clients: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Michelle Williams

    After landing what perhaps was the most coveted design gig in town — A. Quincy Jones' Brody House in Holmby Hills — the pressure was on for Hallworth.

    Not just because of the clients (DeGeneres and de Rossi, who purchased the estate for $40 million early last year and sold it to Sean Parker for $55 million six months later), but also because of the home's storied legacy, including its William Haines custom furniture, not to mention the clients' collection of artwork by Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti.

    "Ellen and Portia have trained and sophisti­cated palates without my input," says Hallworth. "Having their trust to add my aesthetic into the aggregate was exciting. By the time we finished, I was inspired, exhausted, more fearless and irrevocably changed. My business and life have followed suit."

    DeGeneres documents much of the Brody House process with Hallworth, as well as several more of her high-end flips, in her new book Home (Grand Central).

    Known for a razor-curated style that melds period and contemporary pieces with strategic shots of color, Hallworth is working on her fifth project with Williams, remodeling an 18th century barn in New York. Says Hallworth, "Her taste is that rare bird that is earthy and sophisticated."

    Design obsession: "I love the whimsy and precision of Michael Wilson's woodworking."

  • Eric Hughes

    PatrickMcMullan.com via AP Images

    Hughes may be the hottest designer you've never heard of.

    Though he has a client roster that reads like an entertainment industry who's who (Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, Lauren Graham, Andy Cohen, Lynn Harris, Stacey Snider and real estate developer-husband Gary Jones, Blair and David Kohan, Marci Klein and Adam Shankman), he doesn't have business cards, he only just created a website (because friends pressured him to) and, for many years, he didn't even have a cellphone.

    "The only social media I like is Instagram," he says, "because it's pretty pictures and people are friendly."

    A former studio exec, Hughes was vp production at Universal (shepherding Bring It On, among other films) before he did a career about-face.

    "I loved my job, but at the end of the day, I didn't feel like I could be in the film business for the rest of my life," he says of his aha moment in 2000. "So I decided to move on to the next. Even though I had no idea what 'the next' would actually be."

    Read more here

  • Molly Isaksen

    Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)

    Clients: Lionsgate's Jon and Laurie Feltheimer, Dustin and Lisa Hoffman

    Isaksen may be married to UTA partner Jay Sures, but that doesn't mean she has much interest in the limelight.

    Instead, the native Angeleno operates at a whisper hush, with no product line, no publicist, not even a website. "I really prefer to work behind the scenes," says Isaksen. 

    But even though her discretion and self-described "very traditional style with a clean aesthetic" have attracted L.A.'s most elite clients (including the Spielbergs), Isaksen is quick to point out that her work is not about reproducing Grandma's living room: "I use contemporary pieces, too, but they have to share that timeless quality."

    Design obsession: Furniture designer Herve Van der Straeten: "It's like collecting a beautiful piece of art at the same time."

  • Carrie Livingston

    Clients: Ralph Lauren, Gwyneth Paltrow, Roman Abramovich

    Starting with Lauren, who tapped the Des Moines, Iowa-bred designer to work on properties including his Airstream, Jamaica house and Double RL Ranch, Livingston has spent much of the past decade jetting from Moscow to Mayfair to realize clients' design fantasies: Cue the graffiti'd game rooms, the all-Hermes pool house and plenty of candy-colored Lucite furniture of her own design.

    "Some people literally say to me, 'Reinvent our style from scratch,' " she says.

    As clients like Russian billionaire Abramovich go into home-acquisition mode, her in-situ style has shifted into overdrive, culminating in 2012 when she and her two children left L.A. for a year to live in London, as Livingston was tapped to transform a Cornwall Terrace mansion overlooking Regent's Park into a stunning art gallery. (The Qatari royal family purchased the property for 98 million pounds.)

    Now staying closer to home, she is at work on a property for Josie Harris (mom of Floyd Mayweather's three kids) and runs a tiny eponymous shop in Century City.

    Her quirky/sophisticated style — gilded toy soldiers, oversized aspirin paperweights and signature neon light pieces (Paltrow conscripted Livingston to create one that spells out Bruce Springsteen lyrics) — attracts clients like Lenny Kravitz, the members of Good Charlotte and plenty of CAA agents: "Fridays are big days here when it comes time for standout weekend gifts."

     
  • Mary McDonald

    Jonathon Ziegler/Patrick McMullan/Sipa USA

    Clients: Jennifer Salke, Ryan Murphy, Renee Zellweger

    The Brentwood-raised McDonald isn't swayed by trends, instead focusing on her own timeless interpretation of glamour that makes no apologies for touches like all-leopard print walls, Chinois screens and shell-encrusted mirrors.

    Recently she added Too Faced cosmetics founders Jerrod Blandino and Jeremy Johnson to her client roster.

    Her high-octane style made her one of Million Dollar Decorators' standout stars, and she has parlayed that into product lines including a 53-piece furniture collection (priced from $1,500 to $15,000), including a "Demetria chaise I cannot get enough of," for North Carolina-based Chaddock.

    Design obsession: "Ombre walls."

  • Michael Smith

    Clients: Barack and Michelle Obama, Cindy Crawford, George Clooney, Rupert Murdoch

    Smith was about a decade ahead of the curve when he zeroed in on creating homes that meld a variety of periods and styles — and leave little trace of a decorator's presence.

    Beyond his work for high-flying clients ranging from Hollywood A-listers to media kings and world leaders, the Orange County, Calif.-born Smith has become the "first decorator," a role reinforced not only by his White House design gig but also by the fact that Smith's partner, former HBO executive James Costos, is the U.S. ambassador to Spain.

    Smith now spends much of his time hosting high-powered shindigs at their Holmby Hills home and shuttling around the world for gigs that include redesigning U.S. embassies in Paris, Copenhagen and Madrid. He's also gearing up to redo the public spaces at Santa Monica's Shutters.

    Later this month, his book The Curated House (Rizzoli) will offer a peek into his Holmby Hills, Coachella Valley and New York City homes.

     
  • Estee Stanley

    Todd Williamson/Invision for Baby2Baby/AP Images

    Clients: Ellen Pompeo, Ted Sarandos and Nicole Avant, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey

    The expansion from fashion stylist to interior designer was a natural progression for Stanley, who has dressed the likes of Penelope Cruz and the Olsen twins and carried former clients like Biel over into her new business.

    "My clients move a lot, so it keeps me busy," says Stanley, who currently is working on Pompeo's home in the Hamptons and Biel's kid-friendly Au Fudge restaurant in West Hollywood, where the design idea "is to create a place that will feel like it's coming over to one of our homes with the kids," she says. "We're not doing a crazy, colorful 'kid decor' type thing."

    Another project is a Gordon Kaufmann-designed house in Hancock Park, previously owned by Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. New owners Sarandos and Avant asked Stanley to give it an overhaul. 

    "This home is so gorgeous that we don't want to ruin the originality of it," she says. "We're going to go in a completely different direction than the previous owners, but even now, every time I go in there, I'm fainting. It's so gorgeous."

    Design trend she's done with: "Homes that feel like hotels."

  • Madeline Stuart

    Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

    Clients: John Goldwyn and Jeffrey Klein, David and Susan Gersh, Gary and Jean Newman

    "Projects are getting much, much bigger, and clients are getting savvier," says Stuart of her 15 years in the business.

    With her classical, trend-resistant approach, she was poised to ride L.A.'s real estate wave and now shuttles between projects that include film producer Goldwyn and hotelier Klein's new home (Stuart already had decorated their John Woolf in the Hollywood Hills and now is working on their next house, which is "completely different") and the Gershes' new Marc Appleton-designed spread in Beverly Hills, located on the site of David's grandparents' (Beatrice and Phil, founder of The Gersh Agency) original home.

    And then there's Fox Television Group co-chairman/ CEO Gary Newman's just-completed famed Streamline Moderne house in Santa Monica, formerly owned by Cedric Gibbons and Dolores del Rio.

    "I'm lucky," says Stuart. "My clients just keep buying homes, so I'm busy."

    Design obsession: "We just did a fabulous pair of eglomise doors for a project in La Jolla. [Eglomise is the art of painting on the back side of glass.] They'll be made by Miriam Ellner, a brilliant artist in New York."

     
  • Nathan Turner

    Thon Ziegler/Patrick McMullan/Sipa USA

    Clients: Amanda Peet, Mindy Kaling

    "Clients literally say to me, 'I saw you on that show and want you to design my homes,' " says Turner of his Million Dollar Decorators days.

    That exposure means the Bay Area-bred designer now juggles his roster of local clients — Peet, Kaling and most recently Warner Bros. executive vp Jessica Schell — with plenty of international ones. "I am doing homes in places like Singapore and Indonesia as well as doing those clients' homes here in Bel Air and Beverly Hills."

    In addition to his Melrose Avenue showroom, Turner recently opened a pop-up shop, Nathan Turner American Style, at The Village at Westfield Topanga.

    "It's my take on an old-fashioned mercantile store with things for the home, garden and pet."

  • Kelly Wearstler

    Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP

    Clients: Cameron Diaz, Gwen Stefani

    While the design tides may be shifting into less dramatic, more organic terrain, Wearstler has stayed with her signature high-pitched style for clients like Stefani and Diaz.

    It's a look that sustains an allure in Hollywood and beyond, and her gift for striking visual statements carries into her growing product line.

    "This year I launched extensive new furniture and lighting collections, my first eponymous bedding collection, indoor/outdoor fabrics, a luxury dog collection with architectural dog houses and even a line of gourmet chocolates with Compartes," says Wearstler.

    And the World According to Wearstler is gearing up for a much broader venue as she recently was tapped to be the in-house designer for Westfield Century City's $800 million makeover.

    Heightening the look of the shopping venue to hotel-like standards, Wearstler describes her approach as one that will include "natural materials, artisanal tiles and natural woods interwoven with lush landscaping featuring a wide range of native and drought-tolerant plants. The design aims to create a sequence of story and tactile discovery throughout."

  • Woodson & Rummerfield

    Courtesy of Woodson & Rummerfield

    Clients: Christina Aguilera, Courtney Love, John Travolta and Kelly Preston

    "It's always been about glamour, high style and opulence," says Jaime Rummerfield of her and Ron Woodson's aesthetic. "We understand that mix of fine materials and how to edit the shine, luster, pattern and scale so it's not overdone."

    When the two native Angelenos were tapped by AEG to design the model units at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live in 2010, they unwittingly found themselves targeting a brand-new client base with their moody mauve-on-gray Hollywood Regency-style spaces.

    "We started out doing two model units, and we ended up doing at least a dozen condos for clients there as a result," says Rummerfield.

    Among those was Floyd Mayweather, but a wave of foreign buyers also tapped the duo. Today the two are juggling clients from Korea, Russia and Italy with projects in L.A., Moscow and New York.

    Splurge of the year: "We purchased $2,000-a-yard silk brocade for a pair of club chairs," says Rummerfield. "Each chair required 10 yards."

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